Although my boyhood baseball team the Milwaukee Braves has been out of existence for a long time, I have remained a baseball fan, now of the New York Yankees. Of course, this has something to do with settling in New York City, but on the other hand, the Yankees beat my beloved Braves in a World Series. I can’t justify where my baseball loyalties ended up. I don’t try to. Being a sports fan is not a rational choice. You are a fan of a team or you are not. It can’t be fully explained, but being a Yankees fan has given me a community of sorts. Several friends are also Yankee fans, and our conversations which touch on many topics often include the fortunes of the baseball team, but none us ever have the delusion that the Yankees are “our” team. We are often reminded that they are part of corporate America. The intensity of my Yankee fandom has varied through the years, but at one stage it was almost killed by George Steinbrenner and his corporate tactics.
I have seen many exciting and boring baseball games in person and on television and have read about many more, but they have shared a common purpose for me. Sporting events are ultimately trivial, but they draw me away for a while from other worldly concerns and cares. The baseball universe has a welcome separateness from the rest of my life, and I can escape to that other universe while the game is on or being discussed.
Now with advent of September, a time when baseball should be entering the home stretch for possible pennant winners, baseball does not provide the relief it once did. Pitchers and batters still duel, but the games now bring a focus on national problems. It is impossible to blot out the pandemic watching a televised game in a stadium without fans. And, of course, games have been cancelled because of outbreaks among the players. Baseball, instead of providing a respite from other concerns, only highlights that the disease continues its insidious spread; that we are a nation that has not been able to contain it; and that the pandemic has, amazingly, become a partisan issue that divides us.
And now shocking racial events have produced calls for cancelling or delaying games. I think back to September 11 and remember attending playoff games in the fall of 2001 when baseball resumed after its hiatus. There was a communal feeling that we Americans were all in that tragic time together and that if baseball could be played, all would be right again. And I look at that picture that hangs above my desk of Eddie Matthews and Henry Aaron walking side by side towards the field where a multiracial team waited with a common goal. Where has that hope gone?
These days watching a baseball game sooner or later makes me think of sickness, failed leadership, and the racial divisions in the country. Sooner or later I think about elections and contemplate dire outcomes. Right now baseball provides no relief.
And on top of that, the Yankees have been playing poorly.